Sirens sound: Safely surviving a tornado

  • Published
  • By Heidi Hunt
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
A series of destructive storms have recently tracked through the Midwest and the effects of Mother Nature's most violent tornados have caused devastation for many. While we cannot stop them from damaging everything in their path, we can increase our chances of survival by properly preparing and protecting ourselves from them.

"Weather wise, no one really knows what's going to happen tomorrow or next week," said Mr. David Kehoe, 509th Civil Engineer Squadron readiness and emergency management plans and operations.

"By taking the proper safety steps and doing simple things, you have a better chance of survival," said Staff Sgt. Wes Lacaze, 509th CES, readiness and emergency management plans and operations at this Air Force Global Strike Command base.

The following questions and answers are instructions offered by the 509th CES emergency management plans and operations office.

Q: What is the difference between a tornado watch and tornado warning?
Tornados are possible in and near the watch area. Ensure shelter is readily available, review and discuss your emergency plans and be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado approaching. Acting early saves lives.
TORNADO WARNING: A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Tornado warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property. Go immediately under ground to a basement, storm cellar or an interior room (closet, hallway or bathroom).

Q: How can I stay informed about watches and warnings?
A: During any storm, listen to local news or National Weather radio and be aware of additional severe weather. Know your community's warning system. Communities have different ways of warning residents about tornados, with many having sirens intended for outdoor warning purposes.

Q: What are tornado danger signs I should watch for?
A: Dark, often greenish clouds - A phenomenon caused by hail
· Wall cloud - An isolated lowering of the base of a thunderstorm
· Cloud of debris, large hail, roaring noises, funnel cloud -- (a visible rotating extension of the cloud base)

Q: Where should I take shelter?
A: Pick a safe room in your home where household members and pets may gather during a tornado. This should be a basement, storm cellar or small interior room on the lowest floor with no windows. Practice periodic tornado drills so that everyone knows what to do if a tornado is approaching.

Q: Where is the safest place to be if an underground shelter is not available?
A: A small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the safest alternative.

Q: Where should I seek shelter if I am caught outdoors or in a mobile home?
A: Go to a basement or a sturdy building. If you cannot quickly get to a shelter you should immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest shelter. If flying debris occurs while you are driving, pull over and park. Now you have the following options as a last resort:
· Stay in the car with the seat belt on and put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands and a blanket if possible.
· If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway and it is not flooded, exit your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.
Your choice should be driven by your specific circumstances.

Q: How can I protect my home from high winds?
A: Remove diseased and damaged limbs from trees.

Q: How can I protect myself after a tornado has hit?
· A: Watch out for fallen power lines or broken glass lines and report them to the utility company.
· Stay out of damaged buildings.
· Use battery-powered flashlights when examining buildings.
· If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out of the building quickly and call the gas company or fire department.
· Don't create an ignition source (matches, cigarettes etc.)
· Check for anyone who has been injured and need treatment. If you are trained, provide first aid to persons in need until emergency responders arrive.
· Safely clean-up spilled medications, bleaches, gasoline or other materials that could become a hazard.
· Keep your animals under your control.
· Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
· Photo document any damage for insurance claim purposes.

"During a tornado, people should listen to the warnings, find shelter and take cover ... It could save your life," Mr. Kehoe said. "It works."

Dave Clippert, director of the Sedalia-Pettis County Emergency Management Agency, said while what happened in Joplin, Mo., certainly played a part in local reaction, the severe weather that rolled across the Midwest and Pettis County May 24 had an impact, as well.

"People were on edge," said Mr. Clippert. "They saw what happened in Oklahoma and in Kansas that night and took the warnings seriously."

Tornados have the potential to harm or kill and should not be taken lightly, according to Mr. Kehoe.

Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part in a series highlighting safety information offered by the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron Whiteman Emergency Management Plans and Operations Office.